GRAMMY CHEW:
RAP EDITION

Let’s be honest—rap took a hit this year (and not the good kind). With Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time dominating the charts for a nonconsecutive 15 weeks, Taylor Swift’s seemingly unstoppable versions and the global takeover by Latin artists like KAROL G, Bad Bunny, Anitta and Peso Pluma, 2023 was halfway over before we saw a rap artist slide into the #1 spot. A sign of the times? Are people getting bored with what mainstream rap has to offer? Has the absence of lyrical innovation worn thin? Perhaps.

But that doesn’t mean we didn't see a healthy handful of rap releases that made an impact and could net some hardware at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards. Aside from Lil Uzi Vert’s The Pink Tape—which had the honor of breaking rap’s drought in JulyLatto scored a slam-dunk thanks to her collaboration with BTSJung Kook (“Seven”), while Travis Scott’s UTOPIA spent five nonconsecutive weeks on top to become the biggest rap release of 2023 (so far). We’re still waiting on Drake’s For All the Dogs and a Pink Friday sequel from Nicki Minaj, albums that will likely achieve #1 debuts, but they’re outside Grammy’s eligibility period, as is Doja Cat’s Scarlet.

So who will get a nod? There are four categories specifically reserved for rap: Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album, Best Melodic Rap Performance and Best Rap Performance. In each category, there will be five nominations vying for the coveted gramophone.

With the exception of 2021’s Best Rap Album nods—which included critically acclaimed works by Jay Electronica, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, Nas, Royce 5'9" and D Smoke—this category typically ruffles rap fans’ feathers the most. But it will be nearly impossible to ignore 10K Projects/Capitol breakout Ice Spice this year; she starred in a Dunkin’ commercial promoting her own signature coffee drink, rubbed shoulders with Swift at the VMAs and appeared in a Marc Jacobs campaign.

Viral songs like "Munch (Feelin' U)” and “In Ha Mood” have made her one of the very few new artists to have a seismic effect on the rap space. We fully expect Spice to land in the Best Rap Album category with the Like…? EP, which includes both of the aforementioned tracks.

Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss collab (OVO Sound/Republic) is another potential Best Rap Album contender. It knocked Swift’s Midnights juggernaut from its throne and spawned the It’s All a Blur joint tour. Metro Boomin’s Heroes & Villains (Republic/Boominati), another Best Rap Album hopeful, arrived last December with a boom indeed, featuring John Legend, Future, Young Thug, The Weeknd and 21 Savage.

Coi Leray (Republic) appears to be on her way to bigger things following a productive year; her sophomore set, COI, arrived in June, with the platinum “Players” serving as lead single. As one of the most visible female rappers making waves in 2023, Leray has a real shot at earning her first nom.


Doja Cat, GloRilla, Sexyy Red, Coi Leray

While Scott’s UTOPIA feels like the obvious choice for Best Rap Album, we can’t forget Nas, who reconvened with Hit-Boy for three new projects this year: Magic 2, Magic 3 and 2022's King’s Disease III (Mass Appeal). While the original King’s Disease picked up the Best Rap Album trophy in 2021, will the Recording Academy see fit to reward its latest continuation? After all, Nas has had quite a run of late, and his career stretches back more than two decades. Exceedingly few MCs from the golden era are still as prolific, let alone putting out quality projects featuring top-tier rapping and enough metaphors to make your head spin.

We’d be remiss if we didn't mention Gunna (YSL/300 Entertainment) and Young Thug (YSL/300/Atlantic) who—despite some extenuating circumstances—managed to deliver A Gift & a Curse and Business Is Business, respectively, testament to their resilience and ability to move the needle.

Moving on to Best Rap Song, there’s no shortage of tracks that could wind up winning. Only a fool would fail to consider Doja Cat given her banner year. Though she often teeters on the line between pop and rap, she has a monster rap single with “Paint the Town Red” (Kemosabe/RCA), currently sitting at #1 for a fourth week. Not only has it proven to be a hurricane-sized force of nature, it's solidified Doja as a bona fide superstar.

Scott’s UTOPIA standout “K-Pop” f/Bad Bunny and The Weeknd (Cactus Jack/Epic) is dripping with global crossover appeal, while Ice Spice’s “Barbie World” collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Aqua (Capitol/Atlantic) made a giant splash thanks to this summer’s film behemoth. Both singles are enticing Grammy fodder.

That reminds us: Minaj has never won a gilded trophy despite her relatively long and illustrious career, but “Red Ruby da Sleeze” and “Last Time I Saw,” which elated her ever-loyal Barbz, have the potential to grab Best Rap Song nods. Anyone paying attention to Minaj’s Instagram when the nominations were announced last year won’t be surprised if she goes nuclear should she be snubbed again.

Lil Durk, meanwhile, had an undeniable moment with “All My Life” f/J. Cole (Alamo), and Metro Boomin’s “Creepin” f/The Weeknd and 21 Savage (Republic/Boominati) was a captivating remake of Mario Winans’ 2004 smash “I Don’t Wanna Know” (not to mention another reminder of just how well R&B and rap play together).

Drake and 21 Savage’s “Rich Flex” collab (OVO/Republic) found the 6 God back in rap mode following last year’s foray into house music. Savage’s participation clearly challenged Drake to up his pen game.

Open Shift/gamma. (not a label) had a promising start with newcomer Sexyy Red, whose “Pound Town 2” f/Nicki Minaj put her on the map. Her second single, “Skeeyee," is another viral hit. Could this be her year for Best Rap Song?

Or will it go to Interscope/CMG’s GloRilla, whose “Tomorrow 2” f/Cardi B further legitimized the Memphis rapper’s presence among the elite? Quavo & Takeoffs Nothing Changed” (QC/Motown/Capitol) will more than likely be included in the category as well, especially in light of Takeoff’s murder last November.

Finally, DJ Khaled’s “Supposed To Be Loved” f/Lil Baby, Future and Lil Uzi Vert (We the Best/Def Jam) effortlessly brought the trap to Michael Jackson’s "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” providing yet another summer anthem courtesy of the Miami hitmaker.

Of course, any one of these tracks could be tossed into the Best Melodic Rap Performance and/or Best Rap Performance categories, too.

Though rap had a slow start this year, it's at least been steady. We’ll see what happens with Drake and Minaj but until then, who will the Grammys deem worthy? The anticipation is killing us.

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